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by Lisa Preston
Skyhorse Publishing, November 2018
254 pages
ISBN: 1510732721

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Rainy Dale has recently settled into Cowdry, Oregon because that's where she ran out of money and Guy Kittredge was nice enough to let her park her horse trailer in his pasture. He's also rented her a small space; sometimes he sleeps there and sometimes Rainy sleeps in his bed. So far, so good, although Rainy is fairly stand-offish when it comes to romance; she's been burned pretty badly more than once. Rainy is a farrier, shoeing horses for a living. Guy is a cook at the local greasy spoon. They both have ambitions, although neither is quite sure how the combination will play out. It's been a long day for Rainy, ending up with Patsy-Lynn Harper's Paint horse Spartacus and then off to Abby Langston's little Arabian Liberty. She's ready for a great meal when the Po-Lice show up to ask her about her time at Patsy-Lynn's; Patsy-Lynn is no longer among the living and it doesn't look like an accident.

Rainy is fairly new in town, and is still sorting out all the relationships that exist among her clients, various business entities, and the locals. There is already a farrier in town; he's not happy with his competition. The local vet is fairly new, since the old vet retired. Patsy-Lynn is the second wife of Mr. Harper; he has a son by his first wife. Abby lives across the road from Mr. Harper, with her widower dad. Rainy is also sorting out her own life: her mom is a D-list actress in California and her dad is a ranch hand in Texas. There are saddlebags galore of emotional baggage in that last sentence; Guy wants to be the guy to help her unpack all that. The Po-Lice keep coming by, asking if this tool or that belongs to Rainy, if she'll consent to a blood draw, if they can have her fingerprints. Rainy's tendency to put on what Guy calls her Wood Plank face doesn't make her life any easier.

There is a lot going on in Cowdry. Abby's mare is pregnant and she will not discuss it at all. One of Rainy's clients asks her to transport some bute (kind of like ibuprophen for horses) to another client and gets his nose out of joint when she forgets. The vet's office is robbed. A very tame horse goes missing. Guy is having meetings with some locals and doesn't want to discuss it with Rainy. One of the local ex-cheerleaders is giving Guy "the look," when she isn't thinking about looking at Mr. Harper, Jr. What, if anything, does any of this have to do with Patsy-Lynn's death, which (as one might surmise) is the subject of an amazing amount of local gossip?

As someone who knows jack-all about horses and such, I can't speak to the authenticity of what goes on, farrier-wise, in THE CLINCHER. The relationships portrayed are, however, universal and Preston can write about them like nobody's business. Because Preston writes in first person, the reader knows a lot about the kind of woman Rainy is, although pertinent details are doled out in dribs and drabs. That's also how Rainy gets the clues that lead her to the killer: a little bit here, a sentence there, an insight now and then. This makes for good pacing, and the last few chapters move right along.

I read this in manuscript form more than a few years ago. I liked it then. I like it better now. I thought at the time that Rainy would make a good series character. The sub-plots that are woven into THE CLINCHER make it easy to see that Preston has more up her sleeve and on her mind. Good deal!

I have been reading and reviewing mystery fiction for over a quarter of a century and read broadly within just about all genres and sub-genres. I have been a preliminary judge for the Malice Domestic/St. Martin's Press Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Contest for at least 25 years. I live in Northern lower Michigan with my spousal unit, one large cat, and 2 fairly small dogs.

Reviewed by PJ Coldren, September 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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